Would a proposed e-academy offering full-time virtual education really 'reshape education in England'?

Janet Downs's picture
A proposed free school, Wey ecademy has a vision to ‘reshape education in England’. It will demolish ‘barriers to a first class education’ and ‘give choice to every postcode’.

How will it do this? It will provide full-time education to 10-19 year-olds via the internet.

Education is, of course, more than following a syllabus – it’s about children meeting others, making friends, engaging in physical activity and learning to cope in a social as well as a working environment.

The ecademy’s prospectus seems to recognise this – but many clubs etc are on-line. Some would argue children already spend too much time on-line without being expected to receive their full-time education via a medium full of distractions.

Extra-curricular activities, the prospectus suggests, could be fulfilled by attending local clubs and groups. But these usually entail a cost. Pupils in normal schools are not expected to pay for extra-curricular activities such as ‘enrichment’ activities or sport unless the activities involve a theatre visit, say, or a residential course.

On-line education, especially if full-time, demand a high degree of self-motivation, maturity and discipline. Nowhere in the prospectus does the eacademy mention supervision by a real adult as opposed to a virtual one. Wey ecademy says its school is for children as young as ten. Perhaps it’s assumed there will be an adult around to keep the child on task but this isn’t made explicit. The Department for Education (DfE) says children under 12 are too immature to be left for long periods of time so will it approve free school offering full-time on-line education to 10 year-olds? And even those youngsters deemed old enough to be left alone might find alternative things to do - we're talking about teenagers here.

The eacademy prepares pupils for exams which, the prospectus says, would be taken at local exam centres. But not all schools accept ‘private’ candidates. External candidates have to provide proof of identity such as a passport. Pupils without such proof would need to present a private candidate identification form with two photos to the exam centre at the time of entry. Presumably parents would have to take responsibility for this. These regulations apply to GCSEs and A Levels. It’s unclear what rules would apply to Key Stage 2 pupils taking SATs or older pupils taking the International Baccalaureate Diploma which Wey eacademy says it will be offering ‘in time’.

But who is behind the free school proposal which has already been turned down once? It’s Wey Education Schools Trust (WEST), the ‘vehicle’ set up by Zail Enterprises Ltd, a subsidiary of Wey Education PLC. Zail hopes the ‘school management model’, running free schools or academies, will help ‘generate long term profitability and a return to shareholders’.

Education delivered on-line has its uses. School refusers, children with medical conditions, children in remote areas (providing the broadband is up to it) and children who move around a lot could benefit from such lessons.


However, it would be more beneficial to children if on-line tuition was linked to existing brinks-and-mortar schools (with proper funding, of course). They would be able to join the normal school when circumstances changed and there would be no problem with confirming identity when taking exams. Pupils would benefit from being part of a real, rather than virtual, community.

ADDENDUM WEST is also supporting the proposal for Peckham Free School. It says it 'will be the trust responsible for running the school if approved with the group constituting the local governing body'. For more information about Wey Education PLC and its belief in 2011 that the Government's academies and free schools programme 'will create increased opportunities for private sector companies to manage and run state-funded schools at all levels' and how it 'intends to follow a policy of both organic expansion and acquisition to establish a meaningful market share' here.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Robert Waring's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 14:27

Bizarre !
and another academy / freeschool HT having "visions"

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 15:51

On another thread I recommended Part II of Tom Bennett's new book, 'Teacher Proof' (2013) Routledge

There is a lot in his book that I do not agree with Tom Bennett about, but his Part II 'Voodoo Teaching' really is a well researched 'must read'.

In Voodoo Teaching he has two chapters relevant to this post.

Chapter 9 - 'Buck Rogers and the twenty-first-century-curriculum'.

Chapter 10 - 'techno, techno, techno, TECHNO' - subtitled, 'digital natives in flipped classrooms'

As well as the objections raised by Janet, my concerns (as ever) relate to the process of learning.

I think that Vygotsky (who else) is right that knowledge is encountered on the social plane but must then be meaningfully internalised by the learner. I suppose that the 'social plane' could be an e-learning community. However that is not the hard bit.

I regularly encounter suggestions that schools are an outdated concept because children have all the knowledge of the world available to them on Google. This notion had its beginnings with television and the spawning of 'The Open University'. Leaving aside that the OU is for adults not children, OU students do meet each other and their tutor in person, during the course and can discuss on the telephone - or even via 'Facetime' on an iPad.

The critical part of learning is not accessing the factual information but assimilating it in a meaningful way onto the conceptual structure of the individual learner. This process is always under the control of the learner not the teacher - 'you can take a horse to water .....' Only when this happens does a learner 'get it'. Sometimes, hopefully often even, the new knowledge and the current personal concept don't engage. This is called 'cognitive dissonance' and leads, usually with some intellectual discomfort, to the refinement or replacement of the personal concept. This is cognitive development (getting cleverer in a permanent way that is transferable to other contexts and subjects).

For me a major focus of all schooling should be about facilitating such cognitive development.

All my experience (as a science teacher), backed by other developmental learning theorists, suggests that this is best achieved by structured, scaffolded, organised talk - student/teacher and student/student. This is what Shayer and Adey's CASE and CAME are about.

See also my post.


It not just any talk, and certainly not idle social media type twittering, that is any good. It has to be quality talk - actively orchestrated by a teacher in a setting in which the student can interact at a deep level.

So I too have my doubts.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 07:55

In terms of Child Protection/Safeguarding how will the safety of the pupils be assured?

It has to be acknowledged that schools wrestle with the issue of some pupils who attend registration and then bunk off school and the latter has a clear duty of care in its loco-parentis role. But who will fulfil that function for the virtual school? Will there be a central controller with the remit of alerting parents to sons/daughters failing to attend virtual lessons? How will that controller know whether the pupil is checking in from their home location or elsewhere using a mobile digital platform?

The whole issue of safety and protection becomes a potential nightmare.

But I've not doubt that any Chancellor of the Exchequer will be ecstatic at the thought of the savings!

What next a national MOOC for education and then a EU MOOC then a ...

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 08:57

Good point Andy.

Then there is the question of practical work. This is not just science, although that is very important. What about PE, technology, art, music, cookery, drama etc?



Then there is pastoral support and SEN. I watched Educating the East End for the first time last night. Although I confess that much of it made me cringe, which is why I have avoided such programmes, there was no doubt about the quality and intensity of the support given to the autistic boy and the fact that many of the pupils undoubtedly saw the school as a kind of family, in a good way.

Is this e-school to be a proper comprehensive school or just a commercial 'offer' to parents whose pupils do not have (or are not allowed to have) such interests and needs, and/or to parents that have a very narrow view of education?

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sun, 26/10/2014 - 19:21

E-schooling is about as arm's length and impersonal as it gets. I wonder if this is not an advance-party idea: one doomed to be rejected first time round, but floated to soften us up for further such ventures. You can see how cheap (in all ways) it has the potential to be and yet also so profitable.

Alan's picture
Tue, 28/10/2014 - 11:25

There are parallels with health cutting public services so that the private sector can innovate technological 'advancements' as replacements for face to face care. Orders are to keep the elderly out of hospitals, monitored in their homes with iPads; tele health for consultations. The worry should be lack of contact may exacerbate social isolation and, in terms of safeguarding, may lead to expoiltation, neglect and abuse.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.